Boys Soccer – Group III Final Preview: Toms River South vs. Unbeaten Ramapo
NJSIAA Group III Championship
Sunday, Nov. 20
At Kean University, 3 p.m.
Toms River South (17-3-2) vs. Ramapo (21-0)
Every tradition has to start somewhere, somehow and even though Toms River South’s recent run of NJSIAA Tournament success began seven years ago, head coach Ed Leibe is still milking that run with a group of players who were years away from high school. At halftime of the Indians’ NJSIAA Group III semifinal against Mainland on Tuesday, with his team trailing 1-0, Leibe reminded his current group of that the South tradition began on the back of a string of come-from-behind wins.
“We've been so fortunate with our history and they buy into all that," said Leibe, referring to the 2009 Group IV title run in which Toms River South won five of its sixth games with the game-winning goal coming in the 74th minute or later. “They're just like, ‘We're not losing. We're not losing this game.’”
Leibe’s words – and more importantly, perhaps, the embrace of that state tournament tradition – resonated with the players and Toms River South rallied to beat the Mustangs, 2-1, on a pair of goals off throw-ins by senior Chris Kluxen. Now in its second Group III final in as many years, Toms River South will look to capture its second ever group championship and first since the team ran through the 2009 Group IV tournament.
Opposing the Indians will be a Ramapo team that has rich state tournament accomplishments in its past and potentially in its future. The Raiders have won six NJSIAA Group championships and winning a seventh would mean completing an undefeated season. If Ramapo can defeat Toms River South on Sunday, it will have completed a perfect 22-0 season and would be the first NJSIAA team to do so since CBA went 21-0 in 2011.
“I love it,” Leibe said of playing Ramapo. “Our guys were hoping to have a chance to play them and be the first team to beat them. It’s a lot of pressure trying to go undefeated so I’m sure it’s going to be on their minds when they play us and hopefully it becomes a little bit of a distraction.”
In order to upend Ramapo, Toms River South will have to slow Raiders leading scorer Sebastian Varela, who leads the team in both goals (18) and assists (16). Defensively, Ramapo has been air-tight with seven goals allowed and zero games in which it has allowed more than one goal.
While Toms River South does not have a player that has scored at the level that Varela has, it does have a 13-goal scorer in Dylan Parks and has have a comfortable balance of scoring throughout the postseason. Parks, senior Tyler Egnatuk, junior Matt Babcock and freshman Jack Seitz have each scored two goals, which account for eight of Toms River South’s 10 total goals during the state tournament. The Indians have also been solid around their own net with just two goals allowed in five games.
Toms River South will also have the mental obstacle of putting last year’s 4-0, group final loss to Mendham behind them heading into a clean slate Sunday. With nine starters back from last year’s team, that loss is still fresh on the minds of the players.
“We took a big loss in the state final last season and I've played this whole season to get back there,” Kluxen said. "I need to get back there. I couldn't be more ready or more excited.”
Ramapo has been awfully tough to score on this season, but Toms River South will present one of the tougher challenges with which Ramapo has had to contend. The Raiders took down a skilled Hopewell Valley team in the Group III semifinals and Sunday’s game will be more of a physical challenge against a tough, fit Indians team. Toms River South, meanwhile, will have to play an A-game defensively and again take advantages of throws by Kluxen and free kicks by senior defender Ben Brown. With the defensive prowess on either side of the field, two goals will likely be too much for one of the teams to overcome and one might even be enough. It’s worth remembering: going undefeated is rare and Ramapo will be feeling the pressure the longer this game is close. A fast start by either team could be crucial. The Pick: Toms River South, 2-1.
Other NJSIAA Group Finals
Haddon Twp. (19-3-1) vs. Verona (12-10), 10 a.m.
Bernards (21-1-1) vs. Newton (19-3), 12:30 p.m.
Hunterdon Central (17-1-2) vs. Scotch Plains-Fanwood (22-3), 5 p.m.